child protection

Child protection: Keeping the female teenager safe

Earlier this week, as I perused the dailies, I came across a story which was about research carried out by the department of Psychology of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. The research was about how mobile phones are exposing students to a very high risk of contracting HIV. The details of the research are harrowing: 98 per cent of students in day secondary schools in Nairobi sext – sending receiving or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, primarily using mobile phones; 62 per cent sext daily and have multiple sex partners.

As such, “there is high prevalence of masturbation, pornography, multiple sex partners and frequent sexual intercourse among adolescents who engage in sexting in the county”, reported the Standard Newspaper of Monday March 13th 2017. Reference was made to other researches carried out in the country. Of the many harrowing details, the other was that eight adolescents contract HIV daily in Homa Bay. In Butere Sub County, 622 cases of early pregnancies were reported last year.

It is not illegal for a teenager to be pregnant. It is however illegal for any person to engage in sexual relations with a teenager. Teenagers are by law minors, and do not have the legal capacity to engage in sexual relations. A person who engages in sexual relations with a minor is liable to be charged with defilement or rape or indecent assault, among many other sexual offences.

Of course there are a number of challenges faced by law enforcers in the apprehension of persons who engage in sexual relations. It is surprising that much as there were 622 cases or early pregnancies in Butere Sub County, not an equal number of prosecutions for defilement or rape were initiated. Among the challenges that law enforcers face is the fact that most parents/guardians do not know how to deal with such situation.

Case in point is Mary Nakaggwa, mother to a minor who was defiled by her school teacher in Nakapiripirit in Uganda. When the mother noticed that her baby girl was walking uncomfortably, she checked her and found that she smelled foul and that she was bleeding. Quickly, she prepared a hot bath and gave her baby a thorough washing. She then went ahead to was the little girl’s panties and her dress. She had destroyed all the leads of evidence to who was the perpetrator of the heinous crime on her little girl. Had she known, she would have done the opposite: taken her baby to the police station to report a case of defilement, and then to the hospital for a medical report.

By law, schools are supposed to integrate sex education which is age appropriate to all students. It is also a duty of every parent (though not expressly required by law, but which can be imputed into parental responsibility) to teach their children about sex.

Sex education means the imparting of knowledge to especially young people about sex, sexuality and sexual health. Unlike what many people think, sex education is not about the promotion of sexual activity. Sex education teaches young people about the importance of stable and loving relationships, about respect and love, about marriage and family life.

As such, sex education helps young people to make informed decisions about their sex choices. For example, sex education lets young people know that sexual relations may lead to early pregnancies, which in turn spoil their chances at having a childhood that is free of encumbrances.

The Children Act Cap 141 (2012) (the Act) guarantees protection from sexual exploitation for children. Section 15 forbids the use of children in prostitution, inducement or coercion to engage in any sexual activity, and exposure to obscene materials.

The Act does not expressly cover pregnancy in young girls. However, a National Council for Children Services is established under section 30. Among the officers of the Council is the Director whose many functions include giving attention and providing assistance to the acute situations of children in hardship, including disabled children, street children, orphaned and destitute children, children who abuse drugs, children who are sexually abused and children who are affected by domestic violence, and formulate programs for the consideration by the Council, for the alleviation of the plight of such children.

It follows therefore that these high numbers of child pregnancies, which are a manifestation of sexual abuse, should be catching the attention of the Director. 9nvestigations into the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy of these young girls should be done. Most of them are simply victims of sexual abuse, coupled with their naivety and lack of independence of mind.

If a child purchases a sim card using the parent’s Identity Card, it is the parent’s business to know what goes on, on that sim card. If a parent spends money to buy their child a phone, the parent must have the wisdom to know that the phone will expose the child to sexually explicit material, which will in turn affect the child’s sexual behavior.

Laws to protect children from sexual exploitation are in place. Neglect of parental responsibility and poor enforcement/implementation of the laws in place seem to be the biggest contributors to the statistics first mentioned above.

Mechanisms to implement the law should be put in place. Child protection officers should be more vigilant in the execution of their duties. School curricula should be reviewed often to cater for the ever-changing trends. When imparting sex education, information given must never seem old fashioned. If old fashioned, young people will not keep it at heart.

For children in secondary school, reproductive health measures such as contraception should be talked about. Our schools should not be closed to girls who are pregnant. An option for home schooling for pregnant teenagers – during and after giving birth should be available.

Though this article predominantly talks about female children, it should be noted that even male children are victims of sexual exploitation. An article about protecting the male child from sexual exploitation will feature soon.

Let us all look out for the children in our communities.

BY SAMALI BITALA

This article appears in our digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 3, Issue 3 of March 17th 2017

To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE

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